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Nick Stanley

February 2008

Nick Stanley, born 1944


Nick Stanley was politically active in Birmingham in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. He was involved with the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and was instrumental in setting up the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) in Birmingham. In his interview he talks about his political activities, the structures of GLF, where it met and its publications. He also talks about the commercial scene in the city and racism a friend encountered.


Commercial Scene late 1960s early 1970s – 30 35 40 60 70
Club on Broad Street (name unknown) –35 40
Police presence in bars – 60 70
Committee for Homosexual Law Reform - 80
Campaign for Homosexual Equality – 80 100
Gay Liberation Front (GLF) the beginning – 100 110 120 210
GLF Publications - 180
GLF Discos - 190
Gladrag - 180
Digbeth Town Hall - 190
Shakespeare Pub, (GLF discos) - 190
GLF Meetings – 150 130
GLF Manifesto - 140
GLF School Visits - 160
GLF Marches –(pre-cursor to Pride) - 200
Festival of Light – 100 105 110 14
The Peace Centre – 150 210
Racism on the commercial scene / CRE test case - 50
Coming Out - 20
Gay life now – 230
Living as a gay collective – 170 171 172
Homophobia – 170
Non-monogamy - 230
Working with women - 150
Civil Partnerships - 240
Birmingham localities - 170
Queen Victoria pub - 60
The Viking - 70
Press/media attitude to gays - 160
Fashion - 170 171 172
Art and design and LGs - 210
Transsexuals - 35 150
Being gay today - 240
Melchett Road Collective - 170 230

10 About Nick

Nick was born in 1944 in Glasgow to an Irish family and he came to Birmingham when he was 9 or 10. He lived in the city on and off but aged in 1965, aged 21, he returned to work at Birds Custard, where he worked for a year and a half. He had wanted to get into ‘personnel’ and had been advised that Bird’s was a good place to enter this career but as there were no immediate vacancies in personnel he worked on the production lines. Nick then started a course at Birmingham University in social work but changed this after one year to social sciences. At this time (late 1960s) he lived in Richmond Hill Road in a house full of dentists.

20 Coming out and meeting Karl

Nick had had some relationships at boarding school but it stopped when he went into a monastery directly after school at about the age of 18, for 2 years. He had not come to terms with his sexuality when he came back to the city. After leaving Birds, but before he went to University, Nick worked in the Personnel Department of the Department of Employment. Karl worked at the desk opposite Nick, and they got together. (They are still in this relationship). Nick says “my ‘coming out’ happened gradually rather than a ‘grand declaration’ - the knowledge seemed to seep out”.

30 Commercial scene early 70s

Nick talks about using the commercial gay scene: “I ventured out both before I had met Karl and with Karl. The first place we went to was on the corner of Victoria Square, which must have been knocked down now, I’ve forgotten the name of the club”.

35 Broad Street Club

“There was another club up Broad Street that we went to on a fairly regular basis in the early 70s run by a straight Greek guy. The nightclub was upstairs, it was a restaurant but run as a club so people sort of sat and ate big meals in the middle of this dance floor. The major part of the population there as I remember it were transsexuals, in a way I’d never seen before. The club was really very strange. I think the whole block has been bulldozed many years ago.”

40 Racism on the gay scene/ CRE test case

A black friend went to this club on Broad St with Nick but was not allowed in because of his colour. Nick recalls the incident “My friend Terry was straight, he was at university with us, postgraduate, he went on to become an academic in Britain somewhere, very articulate, lovely guy. He had come to the club with us, I think he was open to all kinds of experiences but I never had any with him. He was very, very beautiful and very well connected, from Nigeria. This guy (bouncer) just said, ‘no, you can’t come in, we’ve had lots of trouble with ‘blacks’’. And that just set the thing alight really, and this was a test case we went through with him really. We eventually took the Greek club owner to court for excluding him, which we won. It involved going to the CRE (Commission for Racial Equality) and laying a complaint and they did the rest of it, the outcome was that they found in Terry’s favour and quite a large fine for the club and an enforcement order for them to desist.”

60 Gay bars in general Viking, Trocadero, Victoria

Nick sometimes went to the Mulberry Bush pub in the Bull Ring (not gay) and also remembers going to gay/gay-friendly pubs the Jester, the Trocadero pub and the Queen Victoria. “The Queen Victoria was always OK and safe. There was fairly covert policing – whilst there was some “camping up” going on but no overt displays of physical affection”.

70 Police Harassment

The Police often went into the pubs especially into the Viking Bar on Smallbrook Queensway (early 1970s) – not for any particular reason except to make their presence known.

80 Setting up CHE in the Midlands

“Karl and I were involved with the North West Committee for Homosexual Law Reform that was run by Alan Horsefall from Nelson in Lancashire, the immediate precursor of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. We used to go out once a month on a Sunday evening, upstairs in this bar in Tettenhall, Wolverhampton, with another guy. Out of that CHE West Midlands developed and we set up CHE in Wolverhampton.”

100 CHE becomes GLF

“Then in 1972 we went to a conference at Lancaster University organised by GLF London. Bob Mellors and Aubrey Walter had founded GLF London; I knew them both well and Aubrey’s one of my best friends still. Myself and two other member of the commune went up, Graham Allen and Frank Langham, and we participated in this event which was a counter event to the Festival of Light”.

105 The Festival of Light

“Cliff Richard and somebody else were having a Festival of Light event at Lancaster University at the same time. Mary Whitehouse was the main director and driver of it, they also had a meeting in Handsworth Park, and a friend took pictures of me and other people actually attacking the Festival of Light at the park”. Nick says that as a group he felt safe protesting “The context of both CHE and GLF created the conditions under which you could do things which you would be unwise to do as an individual.”

110 The Quakers Meeting House and other links

Nick talks about the political and physical transition from CHE into the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). “Before we moved to the Peace Centre, our first place in Birmingham was the Quakers Meeting House, we met there for nearly two years. The Quakers were very liberal and they were terrific to us, we weren’t able to change them in any way but they were very interested in civil rights issues. So they would liaise with us on civil rights issues, then when we went to the Peace Centre civil rights were no longer an issue, it was about claiming our rights, sod the rest of you”. From CHE to Quakers to GLF, it was a political transition from something fairly conservative to something very liberal. We had links with the Trade Unions in Birmingham, particularly with the T&G, Nursing and Education.”

130 GLF meeting structures

Nick talks about how GLF was anarchic. “Each meeting was a new event, each meeting recreated its own agenda and its own way of dealing with things. It took an enormous amount of time every meeting. The reasoning behind this was to be completely non hierarchical. The Peace Centre had connections with anarchists and many of us had also brushed with anarchism at various times, and so it meant it was actually worth this terrible pain that two thirds of the meeting was actually lost, because it was so important to create the conditions before you started”.

“Each meeting started off by you sitting down together and then things started, and then you had to somehow negotiate an agenda, there was also the bureaucratic bit. There was the health group, the education group, a group dealing with churches, which all had their agendas and had sub meetings and had to bring this back to the main meeting. All this stuff was going on which made it quite difficult to deal with all these things”.

140 GLF Manifesto

Nick talks abut the origin of the GLF manifesto

“It was patriated from New York into London GLF by Aubrey (Walter) and then we looked at it here in Birmingham and discussed and contributed.”

“It was all the classic stuff about equal access to the law, gay marriages, and one of the major things was the ceasing of medical oppression. One of the things that dates it now was an attack on Christianity, it was very clearly anti Christian, something like “the oppression that the Christian religion has created in term of sexuality, means that Christianity must be in every respect dispelled and disabled”. This was a reaction against organisations like the evangelical Festival of Light, which were more vocal in those days.”

“Looking back it was wonderful really, I think that GLF actually had some wonderful principles and the whole of the political development of lesbian and gay people has been based on the major principles of the GLF manifesto. The GLF manifesto now looks very dated in lots of ways, but every element of that manifesto has now been developed and actually put into force. This was a national manifesto developed by all the GLF groups in the early 1970s; it’s still available on line.”

150 Attendances at the GLF Meetings

“The Birmingham GLF meetings would attract a few dozen people or sometimes as many as 30. The Peace Centre room was small so people sat around everywhere. There was a mixture of the sexes and there was a prominent women’s group who made a great impression on things. There was the third gender of male to female transsexuals and whenever they were at the meetings the agenda was theirs. The meetings ran for up to 4 years. Membership of the group fluctuated. There was a central core of two dozen members made of mixed ages including 2 or 3 people who were retired”.

160 GLF in Schools

GLF did make some presentations in local schools, which brought the group to the attention of the local press and the national press. “I think we advertised in the local press, we were quite keen to advertise our presence and we would advertise in papers like the Birmingham Mail. I give you three scenarios of going to a school. The first was Coleshill School; the Daily Mail and the Evening Mail stalked us. It was fine though and we were talking in what would now be PSHE, personal and sexual health education. It went very well and we had two repeats in other schools as a result. We also gave a similar presentation to what is now called Relate, (formerly the Marriage Guidance Council), in Rugby and we were involved in there two or three times. We were keen to go up and engage with other organisations.”

Nick talks about the reaction of the sixth formers “They were very serious, and they asked very direct questions about what we did sexually, about how we coped with oppression. None of them made any declarations; how could they. But they were interested in a humanistic way, trying to unstereotype us. We were treated really well.”

170 The Melchett Road Collective

Nick lived in various places such as Richmond Hill Road, Selly Park and Handsworth Woods. Nick and Karl moved into the ‘Collective’ at Melchett Road in Edgbaston. Other people who lived there were Graham Allen and Frank Langham (older man of an Irish background) and Trevor who was Cultural Studies lecturer at Birmingham University. “There were no rules at the house, it was ‘very GLF’, everything was negotiated. There was a weekly meeting every Friday evening and everybody had to be in for this. There was a litre and half bottle of Frascati for the evening and nobody left until the agenda was finished. Everybody talked which included how the last meeting had gone, how they renegotiated things, who had done what and all other types of things.”

Nick describes the house “The house was off Carpenter Drive, it was a three storey modern house, two rooms on each floor, like a lighthouse in a great big block of other houses like it. It was a very middle class environment; there were architecture students from Norway opposite who were very well heeled; all the other houses had families. We were on the end of the road, we were quite distinctive and the neighbours could not help but know, we dressed in a quite flamboyant style.”

Nick remembers that his brother visited with his partner and Nick was wearing a sarong and this was something “I remember my brother came to see me with his partner at the time who was very wealthy, I was walking out to take the grass cuttings down the road and I remember he found it strange that I had a sarong on at the time, that stuck in my brother’s memory as that was the end of his relationship with her.”

180 Published Materials

GLF in Birmingham published “lots of stuff” including a regular magazine, ‘Gladrag’ which was published once a month, and sometimes sold on the street. There was a ‘Publishing Unit’ in the group. Ray Jump and Richard Dyer were members who were involved with publication.

190 GLF Discos

GLF held its own discos including big events such as a disco at Digbeth Civic Hall to which people came from around the country. “We had our own discos, they were very important to us. Some of the big events like at Digbeth Civic Hall, we really filled the place and people came from all over the country. These were important recruiting events for us too, we would make it our point to speak to everyone and see if they wanted to become involved. We had other discos every other week at a pub in Summer Row, at the Shakespeare.”

200 GLF Marches

The GLF group went to the Gay Pride marches in London and even held a few small marches in Birmingham in the early 1970’s. “These were not very big and they were not police chaperoned at all, we took banners and marched down New Street, about 30 of us behind a GLF banner all shouting GLF mantras like ‘Glad to be gay’. I don’t remember any hostile reaction from the crowd; I think they were just bemused. Our aim was to announce ourselves and let Birmingham know gay people were here ‘Here we are and here we’ll stay’. The marches were a mixture of men and women.” The march would go down New Street and along High Street to the Peace Centre on Moor Street.

210 GLF ends for Nick

“When the Peace Centre closed in 1975/76 GLF just evaporated. My political energy dissipated for some time after that. At about the same time (75/76) the Collective dissolved”.

220 Nick’s life after GLF

Having moved to Pershore Road for 11 years, Karl moved to Hereford and Nick has an apartment in the city centre (but spends every weekend in Hereford with Karl). Nick concentrates on his career having joined the University where he works now in 1971. He is now in charge of research for the Faculty of Art and Design at Birmingham City University and a recent President for the National Society For Education of Art and Design. In 2007 Nick organised a conference and published a special issue of the Society’s Journal on Lesbian and Gay Issues in Art and Design.

240 Thoughts on being gay today

“Gay life today is so much different for gay young people now compared to the late 1960s. Whilst there is no pretence that things are wonderful the legal structure is better. Gay marriage / civil partnership has huge ramifications. On one level it is merely bureaucratic”.